Would it be wise to legalize betting in the cricket spectrum?

Would it be wise to legalize betting in the cricket spectrum?

The reason for looking back on the sordid affairs of IPL 2013 spot-fixing is the recent hue and cry about the report published by the Law Commission of India (LCI) with a call to legalize cricket betting in India.

IPL Betting
IPL Betting. (Photo Source: CricTracker)

2013 was a grim year for Indian cricket. From cricketers to the franchise owners of the Indian Premier League (IPL), revered gentlemen up until then were found to be embroiled in illegal betting and spot-fixing during the 2013 edition of the IPL. The question is: five years down the line, have we really reached a position where such a fallout will never happen again?

The reason for looking back on this sordid affair is the recent hue and cry about the report published by the Law Commission of India (LCI) with a call to legalize cricket betting in India. While conflicting accounts about the report itself and furor from the general public have set the dominant mood, the situation is of far more importance than to be ignored.

The inception of the concept of legalizing betting

Back in 2013, the entire spot-fixing fiasco unfolded as three players of the Rajasthan team: Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandela were arrested by the police and the top bosses of the Chennai Super Kings and the Rajasthan Royals, namely, Gurunath Meiyappan, N Srinivasan and Raj Kundra were suspended on the charges of being involved in the fixing matches and placing illegal bets through bookies.

The idea of legalizing cricket betting in India was first conceived back in 2016 in  report by the Lodha Committee, which was constructed in the aftermath of the 2013 IPL spot-fixing scandal. The Lodha Committee had not only recommended legalizing cricket betting as a plausible option to dispel with corruption in the game, but had also called for criminalizing match-fixing of any and every kind.

Post the Lodha Committee’s recommendations, the LCI was constituted by the government to look into legal reform. The credibility of the committee was paramount and as a result, several reputed lawmakers were drafted into the team and the responsibility to head the committee was placed with Justice BS Chauhan. Concurring to their predecessor ruling body, the LCI published a full-blown report on Thursday titled “Legal Framework: Gambling and Sports Betting including in Cricket in India”.

Chaos surrounding LCI recommendation

Unfortunately, the full contents of the report by the LCI have been shrouded too deeply in controversy to be discerned. While the first impressions had suggested that the LCI has agreed with the Lodha Committee and recommended the possible regulation of gambling/betting in the sport while calling for “”match-fixing and sports fraud should be specifically made criminal offences with severe punishments,” public pressure has elicited a 180° turnabout from the head of the LCI.

Justice BS Chauhan has claimed on Friday that the committee’s recommendations have been misconstrued as they have, in reality, recommended an all-encompassing ban on betting and gambling. Chauhan further stated that they had recommended the possible legalizing of the activities if and only if the government is unable to impose a total ban on them. In the presence of such conflicting reports, the pathway forward seems to be dimly lit.

Is legalization of cricket betting even a thing?

What might come as a surprise to many followers of the game in India is that cricket betting is actually a legally approved procedure in five major countries. Australia, United Kingdom, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and South Africa are namely the major cricket playing nations where betting or gambling on cricket is not a criminal offence. In fact, online betting in other sports is a recognized activity in dozens of countries worldwide, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Singapore, Spain and Switzerland being only a few of them.

The LCI seems to have drawn inspiration from the successful implementation of betting legalization in these countries and in its report, it goes on to say, “It is obvious that betting and corruption in sports, especially cricket, is rampant throughout the world. It has reached a point where the State machinery is finding it difficult to completely curb it. Guided by this realization, one possible way out would be to legalize sports betting, which would go a long way in regulating and controlling the same, while also earning huge revenues by taxing it. In fact, countries like Australia, United Kingdom, South Africa, Sri Lanka and New Zealand have taken a step in this direction, legalizing and regulating betting in sports.”

Digging deeper into the plausibility

The LCI report that was recently published noted, “Having discussed the pros and cons of legalizing regulated gambling and betting activities, it would be apt to say that the arguments in favour of the same far outweigh the arguments alluding to the immorality of these activities.” So what are exactly the pros and cons that line this monumental argument?

Moving on to the pros first. There is a known folk lore where a city was badly riddled by thefts and burglaries. Unable to squash the notoriety, the citizens decided to keep the entrances to their houses wide open all throughout the day, in order to shame the burglars into submission instead of looting a home that trusted them enough to keep the doors ajar. Soon enough, the rate of crime dropped in the city as the thieves were unable to take the risk of stealing from an open household.

The same may very well happen in case gambling and betting are legalized and subsequently, regulated under strict guidelines in Indian cricket. The main problem lies with the rampant circulation of black money in betting circuits and the involvement of the underworld in the process. If betting were to become an approved activity, people would no longer need to resort to shady middle-men in order to channel their money. This would largely help in weeding out instances of illegal match-fixing, if any, from a field of petty betting occurrences and speed up the process of meting out justice.

Possible drawbacks of the system

The major drawback of such a system, however, would lie in the public perception of the matter and the possible misuse of the machinery. A major portion of the Indian population are unaware of the gaping difference between spot-fixing and betting. In such a zone where only black and white exits for the onlooker, legalizing betting may bring about adverse reactions in the cricket-watching community, including extreme forms of protest such as boycotting the game or crying foul against the authorities.

Prof S Sivakumar, one of the LCI members who were involved in preparing the report commented on this matter to the effect, “The socio-economic and cultural circumstances of the country are not pragmatic to accept legalized gambling activities, as it is still treated as a social stigma.” Thus, a proper education of the Indian audience about the ground reality of the situation via media campaigns or other outreach programs is a must if such a vastly new system is to be implemented in the near future.

Last but not the least, we’d have to encounter the risk of betting increasing ten folds by legalizing it as the pathway for twisting the fair practices into corruption would be kicked wide open. What with the ability of corrupt officials at various levels finding ways to distort the most just of legal systems to their own convenience, legalizing cricket betting would be no less than a gamble in itself.

The pros and cons of the matter need to be weighed out more carefully, with a single report as this being highly inconclusive to be able to reach a feasible solution. Involving more cricketers and umpires who have a root-level connection with the game, factoring in the current socio-economic scenario of the country, conducting surveys among the masses to get a good grasp of public opinion and holding extensive talks with authorities and/or bookie networks in countries that have able to legalize cricket betting successfully should be able to provide a better approach of tackling this problem and subsequently enable the decision-making bodies to take a call on the feasibility of the system in a country like India in the future.

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